Government caught in ‘catch 22’ situation over consultation on direct provision

Minister David Stanton admitted he was anxious to engage with communities as early as possible

Last week  a  tender to open a direct provision centre at the former Connemara Gateway hotel on the outskirts of Oughterard in Co Galway was withdrawn. File photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Last week a tender to open a direct provision centre at the former Connemara Gateway hotel on the outskirts of Oughterard in Co Galway was withdrawn. File photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

The Government is caught in a “catch 22 situation” around whether to consult with local communities before or after the location of a direct provision centre is announced, the Minister of State for Immigration has said.

Under the Department of Justice’s ongoing tendering and procurement process for direct provision, the location of a new centre must remain private until a final agreement is made with the contractor, said Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration David Stanton. Once the process is confirmed, the department can engage with local authorities, schools, health boards and sporting bodies, he said.

“It’s kind of a catch 22 situation,” said the minister. “If somebody has a premises and wants to engage with the procurement office it wouldn’t be right to publicly make it known; it’s someone’s private business. Until the tendering process is complete nothing might happen.”

Mr Stanton admitted he was “anxious to engage with communities” as early in the process as possible and hoped the findings of an inter-departmental group set up in light of recent opposition to asylum centres could advise on the best route to take in housing asylum seekers. The group, which is set to report its findings in the coming weeks, has carried out a review of how the department can best meet its obligations in supporting asylum seekers.

Last week Sean Lyons, owner of Fazyard Limited, announced he was withdrawing his tender to open a direct provision centre at the former Connemara Gateway hotel on the outskirts of Oughterard in Co Galway. The centre was widely opposed by the local community, many of whom took part in round the clock protests over a two week period at the site.

Speaking at the Department of Justice 2020 budgetary allocation announcement on Wednesday, Mr Stanton acknowledged that while people initially had “concerns and questions” about asylum seekers, communities had benefitted hugely from the presence of these centres.

‘Not privy’

He added that conditions in centres had “improved dramatically” in recent years and that “direct provision today is completely different to what it was 20 years ago”. Mr Stanton paid tribute to the community groups working with residents in the 38 centres around the country. “I’d like to think in the future that when we open a centre local communities would actually put their energy into welcoming people because everyone benefits when that happens.”

Asked whether any new centres would open before the end of 2019, Mr Stanton said he was “not privy” to information around the ongoing procurement process but he hoped to see a centre open soon. A reduction in the department’s reliance on emergency accommodation centres to house nearly 1,400 newly arrived asylum seekers will be “a top priority” in the coming months, he added.

The department is also working with NGOs to help find accommodation for the 855 people still living in direct provision who have refugee status or permission to remain in Ireland. “Our aim is to get 100 people per week out of the centres and into more permanent housing,” he said.

Government spending on the direct provision system is expected to reach €120 million by the end of 2019, up from €78 million last year, following a 53 per cent rise in applications for the first nine months of the year.

The 2020 Budget allocation of €80.6 million for direct provision, including an additional €10 million to deal with the “significant pressures” within the system, will remain under review through the coming year, said Mr Stanton. An extra €1 million has been earmarked to help speed up the immigration process which will include the hiring of additional staff to fast track applications with the aim of reducing the wait for asylum applicants to nine months, he added.